Nutrition has a new look since the days -- not so very long ago -- when a real man ate steak and potatoes and pie a la mode and died of a heart attack by age 50, and real doctors didn't know beans about nutrition and were proud of it.
And nowhere is the new look more apparent than in tonight's National Nutrition Quiz, an easy-to-watch hour-long crash course in what is known about what we eat and what we ought to eat and what the discrepancy means to our collective health. The National Nutrition Quiz airs at 8 on Channels 26 and 32 and on Maryland Public Broadcasting stations.
Many of the experts who appear on the program discussing the relationship of food to diseases and to health are members of the medical establishment, very few of whom learned about nutrition in medical school.
That's all different now, and although health writer Jane Brody, the program's cohost, offers a caveat to the effect that the information presented is based on what we know today and could easily be quite different tomorrow or next week, the "quiz" is a vehicle for applying this knowledge to life styles more attuned to "where's the beef?" than to "pass the broccoli." "Nutrition Quiz" suffers from a slight overdose of cutesiness, first from a wimpish family on a trip to Kansas City who learn about good eating habits by tuning into the "National Nutrition Quiz" at each fast food stop they make, and second from Brody's somewhat self-conscious bon mot exchanges with her cohost, Dr. David Watts. Nevertheless, in its attempt to wean America from the national overload of fats, sugars and salt, the program gets points.
It is, for example, easy to understand when Dr. William Castelli, medical director of the Framingham Heart Study, points out that a potato has 110 calories when it is baked, more than 250 when it is cut up and fried and more than 400 when made into potato chips.
(And potato chips, he notes, are made with saturated -- animal -- fats, those most closely linked to cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.)
The actual quiz questions make up a relatively small part of the program, serving instead as takeoffs for making some good points about nutrition. Cutting back and forth from the Kansas City-bound family to Brody and Watts to comments from nutrition notables from the American Health Foundation, the Stanford Heart and Weight Control Program, and the Tufts Center for Human Nutrition, among others, the program manages to keep a fast and interesting pace.
If you come away with nothing else from this program, it will be useful to remember that carbohydrates from grains (as in pastas) and fruits and vegetables are not nearly as fattening per se as a lot of fat-marbled red meats, that even toddlers need no fat at all in their milk, that muscles are 70 percent water and that people need only one tablespoon of fat in their daily diets but most of us get six or eight.
There are some especially luscious looking apples sprinkled throughout the program in one setting or another. It's a strong subliminal message -- better have some Granny Smiths around. You're going to want one, and it's better than a Big-Mac attack any day.